At this point, the secret is out: the pandemic’s economic impact is disproportionately hurting women. In the earliest days of this pandemic, I naively hoped that this would create conditions that would be more favorable to working women than ever before. How could it not? So many of the problems women face in the workplace seemed to be logistical, at least structurally; pregnancy and motherhood discrimination surely wouldn’t be a problem if everyone was already working from home, right?
Well, 2020 has shown otherwise. Again and again, we’re faced with reports about how the pandemic is being weaponized against us: on NPR
, in Forbes
and the New York Times
. I won’t rehash the problem in detail (which ultimately comes down, as it always does, to sexism – specifically, the assumption that women are more suited for and concerned with raising a family, have a “breadwinning” husband, and are therefore expendable). We all know what the problem is. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve already come up against it yourself. The one-two punch of the pandemic’s economic crunch and the sudden loss of a primary or secondary income on top of the myriad of other stresses it has produced – fear, loss of loved ones, isolation – is a unique and unmatched combination in the living memory of the United States.
Let us not mince words, even for a moment: the pandemic is reinforcing traditional gender roles
(although there is an argument that that will be a short-term phenomenon
). The closure of schools and daycares - the primary infrastructures that have made possible the women’s economic revolution over the last thirty years - has dramatically increased our workload at home and simultaneously disrupted our day jobs, whether we work remotely or on the front lines.
Our abrupt “easing” out of the workforce is, I suspect, largely proportional to that increase as belt-tightening managers look to make cuts. And what’s worse, this will make it even harder for women to get new jobs – and that’s in addition to the existing pandemic crunch in the job market.
So what do you do when you’re both out of work and considered less employable purely based on sex?
There isn’t an easy answer, and certainly not a fair one either. The forthcoming vaccines will ease this situation somewhat, but we’re looking at a fundamentally changed landscape even beyond the pandemic; women are more likely to be hired by other women, and well, there’s not as many of us around these days, which creates a knock-on effect. We’ve lost, by some estimates, a decade of gains. So we’re once again climbing up the hard way, even if we still have jobs: 77% of women in upper leadership positions report that they’ve dramatically increased their workload. How else can they prove that they’re dedicated to their jobs in this climate?
Unfortunately, “work harder than you’ve ever worked before” doesn’t get you anywhere if you’re already out of a job, and leads dangerously close to burnout if you still have one. What employers want to hear right now from new hires is that they are immune to the pandemic’s effects; that they can work from home without distraction, and that the mental toll of this annus horribilis can be safely compartmentalized away, neither of which I think is true for most of us, even irrespective of gender. But if you’re out there looking for a new job, either because you’ve lost the one you had, or you’re not confident in your future at your present employer, there are things you can do.
Reach out to women-owned companies
Most cities have local organizations for woman-owned companies and women business leaders, and while sex discrimination isn’t solely the purview of men, you’re much more likely to get a fair and understanding hearing from someone who knows firsthand how godawful it can be to be a woman right now than from someone who doesn’t. Furthermore, self-consciously woman-owned companies are more likely to prioritize hiring women, which means they’re less likely to invent excuses not to. But the pandemic has afflicted those businesses disproportionately
, too. Male-owned businesses are simply more likely to be hiring at all, a factor of the easier time men have at being extended credit and therefore weathering these financial crises.
Focus your resume
Since that’s not the silver bullet (nothing ever is), what can you do to improve your odds regardless of where you apply? In the past, I’ve really pushed emphasizing cultural fit and personality during a resume and interviews; today, however, that’s no longer as important to many employers.
Culture mattered when you showed up to the office every day and had to spend huge chunks of time in a shared space with your coworkers. But during the work-from-home era? What employers want to hear right now is that you’ll make their lives easier and won’t need to be managed.
That means it’s time to emphasize your concrete technical skills in terms of getting things done, and at the same time, your skills in self-management and self-organization. This is especially true in this current surge as schools across the country shutter once again; they want to know if you have kids, that the work will still get done.
Build a structure – and be ready to advertise it
To that end, it’s time to think about what your work-from-home workday looks like and to sort out how you manage to stay productive and on-task. Companies are increasingly flexible about work hours, but as far as you’re concerned, assume any company you’re applying to isn’t.
You need to credibly make the case that you can work a normal workday because they’re going to ask (especially if you have children or are married) and that you’re able to handle from home the same level of work you’d be expected to if the pandemic had never happened at all.
To be clear, I’m not sure anybody on Earth is capable of that, but that’s a bridge to be crossed later. Right now, there can’t be any doubt.
I know how hard this is to hear and how rough we’ve all been feeling. It’s absurd to me that so many companies are unable to accept the practical realities of the pandemic and how heavily it’s weighing on their team members, but we still have to keep roofs over our heads and food in the fridge. The best advice I can offer, then, is to take heart; this is only a time, and it will pass. Till then, as Judy Garland sang in Meet Me in St. Louis, “we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”
But I know one thing over all other things:
Women are unstoppable, and we’ve got this.